This fact, together with the brevity and intensity of Sidney's writing career--no more than seven or eight years, during which he worked simultaneously on different texts--only complicates the problem of determining when his works were composed. Among Sidney's earliest ventures, undertaken with his friends Greville and Dyer, were attempts at writing a new kind of English poetry grounded not in accentual stress but in duration of syllables.
The work that was in progress by October , when Edmund Spenser reported it in letters to Gabriel Harvey. These experiments in quantitative verse, examples of which Sidney incorporated into the Old Arcadia , were efforts to make English verse conform to the rules of Latin prosody. Although they never exerted a significant influence upon English metrics, they have long interested scholars and critics. The dactylic hexameters of Old Arcadia 13 are an example of what Sidney achieved:.
In his correspondence with Harvey, Spenser also claimed that Sidney, Greville, and Dyer had formed an English Academy or Areopagus to advance the cause of the new metrics, a claim that has been investigated many times and is at present widely doubted.
Sir Philip Sidney | Poetry Foundation
The years through represent the peak of Sidney's literary activity. The winter of seems the best conjectural date for his composition of The Defence of Poetry , probably written in response to Stephen Gosson's School of Abuse , which was printed in the summer of and dedicated to Sidney without permission. The connection with Gosson's work, along with a reference to Spenser's Shepheardes Calender , also published in and dedicated to Sidney, indicate that Sidney began The Defence of Poetry in that year, whereas the sustained intensity of his argument would seem to make it equally likely that he completed the work in a relatively short time.
It did not appear in print, however, until , which saw two editions by different printers. William Ponsonby, the established printer for the Sidney family, entered The Defence of Poetry in the Stationers' Register on 29 November but seems to have delayed publication until the next year. An unknown number of copies was sold before Ponsonby, claiming precedence, interceded and halted further sales.
Ponsonby's edition was then printed and sold, and the title page of his edition was also fixed to some liberated copies of the Olney edition. The Defence of Poetry is undoubtedly the most important critical treatise on poetry written by an Englishman during the Elizabethan period. It has achieved the status of a classical text. Although it reflects Sidney's Protestantism, it is nevertheless a worldly work. Drawing on an extraordinary range of classical and Continental texts, Sidney sets out to defend "poor poetry" against its attackers and to argue positively that poetry, whose "final end is to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse by their clayey lodgings, can be capable of," is the best vehicle for the "purifying of wit.
Sidney opens his argument by claiming that poetry gave rise to every other kind and division of learning. For this reason the Romans called the poet vates , "which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or prophet," such as David revealed himself to be in his Psalms. With equal reverence the Greeks called the poet a "maker," as do the English from the Greek verb poiein , "to make".
In all cases true poetry makes things "either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature. Sidney next explains that the poet is able to create this heightened fictive world by coupling an idea with an image: "the skill of each artificer standeth in that idea or fore-conceit of the work, and not in the work itself. And that the poet hath that idea is manifest, by delivering them forth in such excellency as he had imagined them. Xenophon's Cyrus is then, a poetic creation so forceful that if readers comprehend the character, they will be prompted to reproduce its virtues in their own medium: "so far substantially it worketh, not only to make a Cyrus, which had been but a particular excellency as nature might have done, but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses, if [readers] will learn why and how that maker made him.
The ongoing replication of poetic images is what enables our "erected wit" to mitigate against the effects of our "infected will. In the section devoted to the divisions or kinds of mimetic poetry and their practitioners, Sidney conceives three types: divine poets who imitate the "inconceivable excellencies of God," of whom David, Solomon, and pagan poets--Orpheus, Amphion, and Homer, "though in a full wrong divinity"--are cited as examples; poets who imitate "matter philosophical," of which there are four subtypes moral, natural, astronomical, and historical ; and "right poets.
The right poet is then set off against other masters of "earthly learning" who claim to lead men to "virtuous action," an ancient contest developed at length in Aristotle's Poetics. The poet's principal competitors are two: the moral philosopher, a figure of "sullen gravity The philosopher delivers virtue "excellent in the dangerless Academy of Plato," but the historian "showeth forth [Virtue's] honorable face in The poet, of course, "standeth for the highest form in the school of learning" because he is the moderator between the philosopher and the historian. Through the art of mimesis the poet unites in one event the philosopher's precept and the historian's example.
Rephrasing his earlier argument on fore-conceit and image, Sidney proclaims that the poet gives "a perfect picture" of something, "so as he coupleth the general notion with the particular example. But the greatest of these is "the most excellent determination of goodness," as in Xenophon's "feigning" of the prince in Cyrus, in Virgil's fashioning of a virtuous man in Aeneas and in Sir Thomas More's representation of an entire commonwealth in his Utopia The reference to the Catholic More prompts a brief digression in which Sidney states a general tenet of mimesis he has not made before: if the poetic artifact is flawed, the fault lies with the poet, not with poetry.
Having made this point, he caps his list by citing the practice of Jesus, who couched his teachings in lively stories. Because of its forcefulness, the poet's "feigned example" has as much capacity as the "true example" for teaching what is to be shunned or followed. Moreover, Sidney remarks wryly, by reading a representation of, rather than actually duplicating, the strategy of Darius's faithful servant Zopyrus, who severed his own nose and ears to persuade the Babylonians that he was a traitor, "you shall save your nose by the bargain.
The poet emerges from this examination transformed from "moderator" to monarch. The effects of poetic invention are such that orators and prophets have employed it for their several purposes. Menenius Agrippa, Livy tells us, calmed the mutinous population of Rome not with "figurative speeches or cunning insinuations" but with a tale of the rebellious body attempting to starve the stomach and so hurting itself. Similarly, the prophet Nathan revealed to David a precept "most divinely true" by means of a feigned discourse.
In a second examination section of The Defence of Poetry , Sidney considers the various subgenres in which poetry is arrayed, with a cautionary comment about overly rigid distinctions. At the very outset he warns against overdetermining such matters, noting that "some poesies have coupled together two or three kinds, as the tragical and comical, whereupon is risen the tragicomical.
All this indicates that "the laurel crown appointed for triumphant captains doth worthily of all other learnings honor the poet's triumph. These charges are, of course, made by straw men whom Sidney will easily hew down.
The first charge he has already demonstrated to be spurious, since of all learning poetry alone "teacheth and moveth to virtue. The confidence with which he addresses the third charge, that poetry fosters "not only love, but lust, but vanity, but if they list [please] scurrility," would seem to belie Astrophil's failed attempt to transmute his desire into spirituality. Nevertheless Sidney maintains that if love poetry leads man astray, we "need not say that poetry abuseth man's wit, but that man's wit abuseth poetry.
Of the four charges against poets issued by the poet-haters, Sidney devotes the most space to refuting the final one, that Plato banned poets from his ideal republic. Simonides and Pindar made of the tyrant Hiero I a just king while, and here again Sidney follows Cicero, Plato was made the slave of Dionysius.
For a clinching rhetorical effect Sidney, whose debt to Plato is everywhere apparent in The Defence of Poetry , reminds his readers that both Plato in the Symposium and the Phaedrus and Plutarch condoned the "abominable filthiness" of homosexuality. Having thus exposed in Plato crimes far exceeding those of poets, Sidney rehabilitates his straw man. When he claims that in banning the poet from his republic Plato places the onus "upon the abuse, not upon poetry," one should remember that he began this passage by confessing that Plato was the most poetical of philosophers.
Penshurst Castle Time Sir Philip Sidney
Plato's strictures were directed toward practitioners of mimesis rather than mimesis itself: "Plato therefore Restating the hugely problematic conditions of mimesis he had already presented in the Cyrus passage, he concludes that "they that delight in poesy itself should seek to know what they do, and how they do and especially look in the unflattering glass of reason" emphasis added.
For poetry must be led gently--or rather it must lead, as it cannot be acquired by "human skill. Sidney is typical of his age in praising Geoffrey Chaucer 's Troilus and Criseyde circa but exceptional in acknowledging that Englishmen of his time had not mastered Chaucerian metrics: "I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this age go so stumblingly after him.
None of this is controversial. However, Sidney's subsequent discussion of The Shepheardes Calender raises the question of how well, if at all, Sidney and Spenser were acquainted.
He acknowledges that Spenser, who dedicated The Shepheardes Calender to him in , "hath much poetry in his eclogues, indeed worthy of reading, if I be not deceived. Yet they were of vastly different social rank, Sidney being the earl's nephew and Spenser the earl's secretary. Indeed, after praising its poetry, Sidney criticizes its author for the "framing of his style to an old rustic language. Yet his only comments upon Spenser's work do not suggest the intimacy between them that Spenser claimed to enjoy.
It is noteworthy that Sidney devotes more of his survey of English literature to drama than to poetry. He possessed an instinctive sense of dramatic structure, as The Lady of May demonstrates. Readers since Thomas Nashe have been impressed by the dramatic character of Astrophil and Stella , and the first version of Arcadia is divided into acts. Yet although he offers here the first example of sustained dramatic criticism in English, Sidney's discussion utterly fails to anticipate the maverick forms of English theater that were to explode with such brilliance in the decade after his death.
Except for Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton's Gorboduc , the first English tragedy in blank verse, which he endorses with qualifications, and the tragedies of his friend George Buchanan, Sidney dismisses the rest of English drama he has seen as "observing rules neither of honest civility nor skillful poetry.
Though he has claimed to see no harm in mixed poetic genres per se, he is especially harsh in his comments on English tragicomedy, which, he remarks, is guilty of promiscuously "mingling kings and clowns" and "hornpipes and funerals. He concludes that he has spent too much time on plays because "they are excelling parts of poesy" and because "none [other poetry is] so much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused.
The brilliant peroration to The Defence of Poetry is a masterly composite of summary, exhortation, and admonition. Every praiseworthy poem is full of "virtue-breeding delightfulness" and possesses all traits of learning; the charges against it are "false or feeble," and bad poetry is produced by "poet-apes, not poets.
His concluding admonition, directed to anyone who might have "so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry," is a masterpiece of tone, combining the witty with the deadly serious for an audience that knew both the triviality of much fashionable rhetoric and the crucial role of literature and language in resisting the monument-destroying power of mutability and relentless time.
As for those who refuse to value poetry, in the name of all poets Sidney offers the malediction that "while you live, [may] you live in love, and never get favor for lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph. Sidney's attractiveness as a critic, like that of John Dryden in a later age, derives partly from his authority as a practicing poet who speaks as much from experience with what works and what does not as from familiarity with abstract notions of art.
This is not to say, however, that his later works simply actualize conceptual blueprints from The Defence of Poetry. Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give. Poetry Foundation. Back to Previous. Sir Philip Sidney. In the Arcadia Sidney recalled in the character Kalander's house the warmth, serviceability, and understated grace of the Sidney home: The house itself was built of fair and strong stone, not affecting so much any extraordinary kind of fineness, as an honorable representing of firm stateliness; the lights, doors and stairs, rather directed to the use of the guest than to the eye of the artificer, and yet, as the one chiefly heeded, so the other not neglected; each place handsome without curiosity, and homely without loathsomeness, not so dainty as not to be trod on, nor yet slubbered up with good fellowship—all more lasting than beautiful but that the consideration of the exceeding lastingness made the eye believe it was exceeding beautiful.
At the beginning of The Defence of Poetry he recalls how during his stay in Vienna he and "the right virtuous Edward Wotton" studied horsemanship under the famed John Pietro Pugliano, the Italian maestro of the Emperor Maximilian II's stables: according to the fertileness of the Italian wit, [Pugliano] did not only afford us the demonstration of his practice, but sought to enrich our minds with the contemplations therein, which he thought most precious Nay, to so unbelieved a point he proceeded as that no earthly thing bred such wonder to a prince as to be a good horseman--skill of government was but a pedanteria in comparison.
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Then would he add certain praises, by telling what a peerless beast the horse was Poems by Sir Philip Sidney. Related Content. More About this Poet. Region: England. Astrophil and Stella Stella is sick, and in that sick-bed lies. Astrophil and Stella Where be the roses gone, which sweetened so our eyes? Astrophil and Stella O absent presence, Stella is not here. O Sleep, the certain knot of peace.
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